Manitoba is expanding eligibility for its child-care subsidy program to reduce out-of-pocket fees for parents with children in regulated care by 30 per cent on average, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Heather Stefanson said Thursday.
“Half a year ago, we said that parents in Manitoba would see their child-care fees cut in half by the end of 2022. We’re well on our way to reaching that target,” Trudeau said during a news conference, appearing virtually from Ottawa.
Manitoba is increasing its annual subsidy funding to $82.7 million, with $64.5 million coming from the federal government, to implement a new subsidy eligibility threshold.
The new eligibility, which applies to children 12 weeks to 12 years old, starts Sunday.
It will see the net household income threshold — and allowable deductions for the subsidy program — increased by 45 per cent. Households with an average net income of $23,883 to $37,116 will be eligible for a full subsidy, while the income threshold for a partial subsidy will range from $37,542 to $82,877, a news release said.
Of the 38,000 spaces available in the regulated child-care system, 6,000 children, or 16 per cent, currently receive a full or partial child-care subsidy.
It is estimated 12,000 more children will receive support with the new threshold, tripling the current number. Full details of the child-care subsidy, including applications and an eligibility estimator, can be found on the province’s website.
“Today’s announcement will allow more Manitoba families to participate in the labour market and maintain employment,” Stefanson said.
In August, Manitoba signed on to the federal plan to provide child care at an average cost of $10 a day in regulated child-care spaces by March 2023.
Under the plan, the federal government promised to spend $1.2 billion to fund early learning and child care in Manitoba over the next five years.
“Today, we can announce that thousands of families will be saving money on child care earlier than planned,” Trudeau said during Thursday’s news conference.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased costs for many people, so cutting child-care expenses will free up money for other priorities like groceries, gas “and what they need to get through winter,” Trudeau said.
Access to child care will be a key element to post-pandemic growth and prosperity, Stefanson said.
“Our government, along with the federal government, is committed to ensuring working women and families have the supports they need to return to employment, attend training programs and return to the classroom,” she said.
“No matter what path people choose, all of these choices need access to affordable child care if we are going to rebuild our economy.”
The announcement is great news, but without a strategy to recruit and retain a strong child-care workforce through proper compensation, Manitoba will not build the transformative system it is hoping for, the Manitoba Child Care Association said in a news release.
‘Sector is in distress’
“Manitoba’s ELCC [early learning and child care] sector is in distress, scrambling for immediate support and direction in handling the new waves of the pandemic,” the release said.
Child-care programs are dealing with critical staff shortages and pleading for PPE and better ventilation and protocols, it said.
“It is a sector that is being held together by the goodwill, dedication and perseverance of an overburdened and neglected workforce,” the release said.
“We look forward to the much-needed announcements from the province of Manitoba that will show their investment, support and stabilization of the ELCC workforce,” Lynda Raible, MCCA’s president-elect, said in the release.
Manitoba Education and Early Childhood Learning Minister Wayne Ewasko said during the news conference that the provincial and federal governments are working on negotiations for the 2021-22 to 2024-25 Canada-Manitoba early learning and care agreement, which includes funding for child-care workers.
More on that will be released as soon as it is available, which should be soon, Ewasko said.
Early childhood educators are key “to having a quality system that is doing right by families,” Trudeau said.
Investing in staff is a core piece of the agreements signed with provincial and territorial governments as part of the federal plan last year, he said.